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British designers criticise plans to remove Tony Awards sound prizes

war-horse New London September 2012 A scene from War Horse, a show that won best sound design for a play at the Tony Awards in 2011. Photo: Brinkhoff Mogenburg
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British sound designers have criticised plans to drop two sound design prizes from future Tony Awards ceremonies, claiming the move undermines the role they play as part of a show’s creative team.

They are now urging members of the Tony Awards’ administration committee to reconsider their decision to drop best sound design in a play and musical, both of which were introduced in 2008.

Mic Pool, the first ever recipient of the prize for The 39 Steps, said the decision had “shocked and saddened” him, and hoped that “considerably less” than the 24 members comprising the Tony Awards’ administration committee had voted in favour of the change.

“I recognise many of the names of the members, and would be very surprised if this represented the views of anything more than a slim majority,” he said.

Following an article in the New York Times which claimed that one of the reasons for retiring the awards was that many Tony voters did not know how to assess sound design, Pool said it was “utterly incomprehensible” to him that the administration committee, those nominating and the voters had failed develop the critical listening skills to understand the artform.

Gareth Fry, chair of the Association of Sound Designers, said the decision demonstrated a failure by the Tony Award’s administration committee to “respect the contribution that sound designers make as core members of a show’s creative team and the artistry that they bring to a show”.

He added that the body strongly encouraged the committee to reconsider its decision.

Meanwhile, Christopher Shutt, who won the Tony prize in 2011 for best sound design for War Horse, said he was saddened to hear of the change.

“We’ve worked hard in our industry over recent years and have made ourselves indispensable to contemporary theatremakers all over the world so I’m saddened to hear that many voters don’t even feel qualified to pass an opinion on our work,” he said.

Shutt added that it was the committee’s responsibility to appoint representatives across a range of theatremaking disciplines, rather than to remove a category: “To deny us that opportunity is to misrepresent the theatregoing experience for audiences, which would be so much less rich without us.”

A petition calling on the administration committee to reverse its decision has attracted more than 29,000 supporters so far.

Composer and sound designer John Gromada, who started the petition, said that he disagreed with claims that the category had been dropped because sound design was more of a technical craft than an artform.

“On the contrary, sound design is a theatrical design art that is a critical part of the collaborative art of theatre. The American Theatre Wing [which co-organises the awards] should continue to honour excellence in sound design as it does for scenery, costume and lighting design,” said the petition.

A spokesman for the Tony Awards said the organisations that administer the awards – the Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing – were unable to comment because meetings involved closed discussions.

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